Who is our audience?

The autism community. In B.C., specifically.

That narrows it down, but not by much. We are working on the development of a new website at work because at the end of June, a contract we’ve had with the Ministry of Children and Family Development for 12 years is terminated. As this was 3/4 of our product, and a significant source of traffic to our website, we need a considerable re-think.

Who will our audience be? The autism community, but more internationally.

I know. It just got WAY bigger. But. If you remove the very B.C. specific service we provided, and look at the information and online training that we provide? We know there are huge gaps that the autism community in different provinces, states, counties and countries are facing. So who are we looking to reach in this global community?

  • parents seeking high quality training and information resources so they can help their kids.
  • community professionals without autism training seeking to provide better supports for kids with autism.
  • community professionals with autism training who are seeking informal (and sometimes formal) professional development

What are some of their characteristics?

  • Mostly English speakers (we do have some information in Chinese)
  • Parents will come from the entire range of education and income
  • Most will  be seeking information that can be applied (less theory)

I would guess that the first two users are looking for specific topics (choosing an intervention, help with toilet training or puberty), whereas the third more likely to browse.

Step two – what do we want them to do on our site? What’s in it for them?

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Newsletter

The ACT newsletter (News Round-Up) is published on a monthly basis through the Active Campaign software, and distributed to nearly 8,000 people on the list. About the newsletter:

  • Distribution increased from quarterly to monthly delivery
  • Includes community events and news, solicited through monthly email request and through community postings already on the ACT website.
  • Upgraded to include logos, icons and images, to improve the look, and to reinforce branding of ACT services and collaborations.
  • New sections include: “Autism in the News”, new listings of autism professionals, and seasonally interesting items from ACT’s curated database of autism resources.
  • To increase reach, the News Round-Up is repurposed as a “News Item” on the website, and as a link on the ACT Facebook page. Individual sections of the News Round-Up are republished as individual News Items, so that the organizational news feed is refreshed regularly.

My father wants an eReader

I’ve discussed with my sister the idea of getting our father an eReader. He’s interested in one, and I get it. He can download books from the library, it takes up very little space in comparison, it’s lighter… and what else? I don’t know. I’m a confessed book snob. I like my wrinkled Rushdie book that I bought in India, or the book of Leonard Cohen poetry that an old boyfriend bought and inscribed for me. I like moving back and forth in the book, pausing to consider Alice Munro’s marvelous turn of phrase, with my finger keeping my space between the pages. I always look to see what people are reading on the bus – much more difficult on an eReader.

So yes, I agree with Sara Barbour in her June 17th opinion piece. It’s an emotional kick for me, my attachment to books.

However.

I remember first year university: the massive biology textbook, the stack of books for my women in literature course, the mammoth introduction to English text that had poetry by Eliot, prose by Chaucer and short stories by… several authors. It’s a doorstopper that you see in many second-hand bookstores or parental basements. In addition to the sheer weight of these books, there is a culture of lineups at the bookstore, lugging heavy backpacks of books for your reference paper, selling the books at the end of the semester, and deciding how much to mark up the text books (highlighting can help you study, but diminishes the re-sale value). eReaders and eBooks could revolutionize academic textbooks.

Electronic textbooks could be cheaper, cutting out printing and shipping costs to start. Errors or updates could be easily implemented, downloaded from the Internet. The electronic textbooks could be more interactive, with quizzes at the end of chapters, or the ability to share notes or questions as a class. They could include multimedia. For the sciences, this could be a 3D image of DNA, a video of cell division, or an animation to demonstrate the physics of acceleration. For the arts, it could be a video of a First Nations potlach, and audio recording of a poem, or and animation of sequencing of behaviours. Perhaps it could make texts more accessible for students for whom English is not their first language (with links to dictionary definitions), for those with visual impairments (screen readers or bigger fonts), or for those with mobility challenges (less to carry, easier to navigate).

I say “could” alot. It depends on publishers being willing to change their practices, re-evaluation of digital rights management. It depends on accessibility and technical support for students and faculty members. Lots of maybes and questions that are still unanswered, but there are opportunities here.

But I’m still buying paperbacks for myself and others. That won’t stop.

Format your documents

In the ProfHacker stream of the Chronicle, was an article on why the instructions: “Your paper must be double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman, with one-inch margins” does our students a disservice.

It goes back to the tension between teaching content and teaching communications. Where do they overlap, and how much responsibility do you take to teach your students verbal, visual and written communications skills.

The article ends with a suggested paragraph that outlines expectations (teaching students that even creativity has it’s objectives), and I’ve got a couple of other. Why not have students format a formal term paper using the guidelines from a disciplinary journal? Format reflective pieces as a personal letter, and then short, narrative assignments as newspaper articles? Reminding students that different formatting shifts the message of the writing, and we (hopefully) create more thoughtful, autonomous writers.